PM ‘snubs’ plan to tackle Argyll’s ‘depopulation crisis’

Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O'Hara, sporting a Jura tartan tie, used his first opportunity at Prime Minister's Questions in three years to ask if Argyll could pilot a regional immigration policy, to tackle a 'depopulation crisis'. However, the answer came back 'no'.

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The Prime Minister has ‘snubbed’ a bid by Argyll and Bute’s MP and council to tackle a ‘depopulation crisis’ with a ‘regional immigration scheme’.

The region is set to lose four per cent of its population by 2026, according to figures newly released by the Scottish Rural Affairs Committee, with eight other Scottish councils facing similar falls.

The area’s MP Brendan O’Hara says ‘with projections forecasting a greater than average decrease in economically active adult and younger people, there are serious concerns about the sustainability and future economic growth of communities across Argyll and Bute.’

Mr O’Hara and the council’s chief executive Cleland Sneddon are seeking to address ‘this crisis’ by piloting a ‘regional immigration scheme’, ‘to help ensure that businesses and public services in Argyll and Bute have access to skilled labour to support the economy and its ambitions for growth in the future.

‘The pilot scheme would adopt a flexible approach to immigration, as happens in Canada in Australia, where specific work visas are approved for areas of specific need, a scheme that has been proven to work.’

Mr O’Hara, speaking in the House of Commons today ‘after a three-year wait to be picked for a Prime Minister’s Questions’, asked Theresa May if she would meet him and Mr Sneddon ‘to discuss, or at the very least, examine the merits of a devolved or regionalised immigration strategy’. However, he says the idea was ‘snubbed’.

Mrs May replied: ‘He has asked about a regional immigration policy, an issue that the Migration Advisory Committee looked at a while back. It made it very clear that that was not a situation that the Government should accept, partly because of the practical problems in implementing it. When we put forward our proposals for the immigration policy for people coming from the European Union, we will ensure that they are right for the whole United Kingdom.’

Afterwards Mr O’Hara said: ‘Rural Scotland is facing a serious crisis of depopulation and it is a crisis that is only going to be exacerbated by Brexit.

‘Rural communities, like Argyll and Bute rely heavily on inward migration, particularly EU citizens, who want to come to work in many of our economic sectors and it is deeply disappointing to hear that the Prime Minister is not willing to tackle this issue.’

‘If the population of Argyll and Bute continues to decrease we’ll all feel the effects as fewer people means less folk spending money in our local shops, fewer kids in our schools, a shortage of staff in our hospitals and less demand for essential services – all leading to cuts in services for those of us who remain.

‘But it doesn’t have to be this way and that is why I asked the Prime Minister to meet with me and the Chief Executive of Argyll and Bute Council to discuss the proposal that Argyll and Bute becomes a pilot for such a scheme.

‘To be snubbed at this early stage and for the PM to simply dismiss these concerns is outrageous and shows scant regard for the future welfare of this constituency.

‘I will continue to pursue this policy and make the case for devolved or regional immigration. The days of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ UK immigration policy are over. It has failed miserably to date and needs to change urgently.’

An Argyll and Bute Council spokesperson said: ‘We are open to exploring options around regional immigration as a means of addressing the issue of depopulation in Argyll and Bute, and we would be willing to work with other interested parties on this matter, given its importance to the council’s overall priorities.’